LINCOLN CITY — On the second weekend in August each summer, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians congregate on Government Hill for the Nesika Illahee Powwow.
The rhythm of the drums, the skilled movements of the dancers and the beautiful regalia provide onlookers with the opportunity to become a part of something that’s special to the tribe. For those who have never been to a powwow, the sights and sounds can also be an educational experience.
A grant awarded Friday night to the Philomath Youth Activities Club will allow local children in this summer’s “Fun in the Sun” program to take in the powwow as the culmination of a three-day cultural experience.
Eric Niemann, who sits on the PYAC board, applied for a Siletz Tribal Charitable Contribution Fund grant in the amount of $2,500. The funds will be matched by PYAC to bring Siletz history and traditions alive for the youngsters.
“Our youth are our future,” Niemann wrote in the grant application. “If we expect our young people to grow up to be culturally sensitive and racially tolerant, we need to partner to provide cultural experiences that will educate them about tribal customs and heritage of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians.”
The PYAC was one of 51 organizations to receive Siletz grants Friday night during a special event in Lincoln City. Other local recipients included awards to Kings Valley Charter School ($6,225), Philomath Police Department ($2,920) and Philomath Community Gleaners ($2,000).
Sarah Woosley, PYAC associate director, sees a great opportunity for the local organization to develop a relationship with the Siletz while building cultural competency with the youth in their programs.
“I’m looking forward to meeting with the tribe and learning more about what’s the best way we can do that and bringing a group of kids over to see their culture,” Woosley said Friday night after the event. “I just think it will be a really valuable, new experience.”
Delores Pigsley, Tribal Council chair who emceed the program, believes in the importance of educating young people about the Siletz.
“We hold cultural activities as one of our highest priorities with kids,” Pigsley said. “It’s important to be sensitive to know the history and why it’s important to natives to carry on the customs and traditions.”
PYAC’s “Fun in the Sun” summer program, which includes children from as young as kindergarten all the way up to age 12, will probably involve 40 to 50 kids, Woosley estimated.
Speaking Friday night on behalf of PYAC, Niemann mentioned the long relationship between Philomath and the Siletz through various events, including serving as the grand marshal of last summer’s Philomath Frolic & Rodeo parade.
“It got me to thinking about our youth and how much they really understand Siletz tribal culture and customs,” Niemann said, “and I thought this would be a great opportunity to partner with the tribe, to try to help develop more culturally sensitive youth and more racially tolerant youth through this cultural exchange. So we’re excited for this grant.”
Niemann said a three-day cultural experience for “Fun in the Sun” participants would tentatively include:
• Aug. 6 — Education on the origins and history of the Siletz Indians with games and crafts.
• Aug. 7 — Discussion on the importance of rivers and mountains in Indian culture with a nature walk at Marys River. A Marys River Park cleanup project would also take place.
• Aug. 8 — Travel to Siletz for the Neskia Illahee Pow Wow and to observe singing, dancing, ceremonies, customs and food of the tribe.
The tribe has been organizing activities to educate youth for many years, including through its two annual powwows. The biggest event in August draws close to 10,000 people, Pigsley said.
In addition, singers, dancers and drummers have made visits to schools around the region.
“Right now, we’ve developed curriculum that will be taught in the public schools all over Oregon,” Pigsley said. “That activity has generated a lot of interest in wanting to know more about the traditions and the culture.”
In all, the Siletz tribe distributed $214,791.52 in grants to 51 organizations. The tribe makes quarterly donations to nonprofit groups and the seven-member Charitable Fund Advisory Board has distributed more than $13.8 million since its inception in 2001. In all, the tribe has given away $17.9 million through the charitable fund and other tribal resources.
The Siletz tribe’s 11-county service area includes Lincoln, Tillamook, Linn, Lane, Benton, Polk, Yamhill, Marion, Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.
Third- and fourth-grade teacher Athena Lodge and a group of Kings Valley students posed for photos with the oversized check during Friday’s event. The $6,225 grant will go toward expenses involved with taking an overnight science and outdoor learning field trip to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s Camp Gray in Newport.
“This year, we are taking 44 children and about 15 adults to chaperone our OMSI trip over to Newport where we will be learning about the coastal ecology because we will be doing outdoor science for three days,” Lodge said while accepting the check.
Chief of Police Ken Rueben said the Siletz grant of $2,920 will be matched by the city to purchase a second speed sign to be utilized in the community. This one would have more bells and whistles than the first one purchased, reflected in the price tag of about $6,000.
“The one we want allows us to look at data online, so we wanted to up our game a little bit and go to a better version of the one that we have so we can do quicker studies of traffic-related issues, traffic counts and those kinds of things,” Rueben said.
Rueben told the crowd at Friday’s event that the signs also help slow down Highway 20 traffic that goes through Philomath. Children routinely cross the busy street going to and from school.
Catherine Biscoe, program manager, and Alicia Warren, secretary, accepted the $2,000 grant for Philomath Community Gleaners. Biscoe talked about the long partnership that the Gleaners have had with the Siletz and how their generosity has helped with the affordable purchase of food.
“This $2,000 will go a long ways towards feeding members in our community with the pressures on our community members as far as food stamps and things that are changing in our nation,” Biscoe said. “So weekly, we are getting new members and we’re excited that this is going to help feed those folks.”
"I thought this would be a great opportunity to partner with the tribe, to try to help develop more culturally sensitive youth and more racially tolerant youth through this cultural exchange."
— Eric Niemann, PYAC board member